Potty Learning with Patience and Praise

Like most everything related to parenting, when it comes to potty learning (or training) there is not a one size fits all approach. Just as every child is different, every family is different and what works best for one will not work for another. However, since potty learning is a hot topic in our house these days, I thought I would share what we have found to work best for us.

When it comes to potty learning and my kids, I approach it similarly to the way I approach weaning from the breast. I trust that when the time is right and the child is ready, it will happen. I know this is not a method that would work for every child or every family, but so far its been working for us.

My oldest Ava was completely out of diapers (including at night) somewhere between ages 2 1/2 and 3. Julian became interested in using the potty earlier than Ava, but the transition to using the potty full time has been much more gradual. He’s currently 3 years and 2 months and mostly potty learned during the day, but not for the occasional nap or at night.

While I say, “it (potty learning) will happen,” that’s not to say I (and my husband) don’t do things to encourage the kids. The process is not left entirely up to them, but I do let them take the lead and guide how fast or slow the transition takes.

Photo courtesy of juhansonin

Here are some of the techniques I used with my kids to facilitate potty learning

Naked “Training”
One of the first things I like to do that helps them get more familiar with their body and elimination sensations is allow them to be naked from the waist down while at home. If it’s particularly cold, I’d suggest the kiddo wear BabyLegs or something similar on his/her legs, though my kids don’t seem to mind the cold at all.

Another benefit of being pant-less is that they can run to the potty and use it without having to worry about getting clothes out of the way first.

Since I’m at home with my kids this technique has worked well for us. Obviously though, isn’t for everyone.

Amber from Strocel uses the naked time technique as well. “During toilet training I … allow lots, and lots, and lots of naked time. Because it’s much more obvious to both you and the kid that they’re peeing when they aren’t in a diaper.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting said, “Being naked helped him (her son) to feel what was going on, it felt different from having a diaper on, it saved on laundry significantly, and it also made it quicker when he did rush off to the potty because there were no snaps and zippers and things to deal with.”

Keep a potty (or two or three) nearby
I try to keep a potty in the room wherever the child is playing. In our house that’s usually in the living room. I think having the potty where they can see it and have easy access to it helped my kids learn to use it. When they move off into another room and the potty isn’t right there, that’s usually when the accidents happen. (If you can invest in a few potties to scatter around the house, all the better.)

Once they have mastered using the potty in the living room, I would either move it into the bathroom or just encourage them to transition from the potty to using the actual toilet.

Praise, praise and more praise
My husband and I offer a lot of praise when our child uses the potty or toilet. In fact, in the beginning there’s often a lot of cheering, clapping hands, silly dances, etc. to encourage the new behavior.

Read books about going potty
The book I loved for helping my kids learn more about their bodies and using the potty was “Once Upon A Potty” by Alona Frankel. There are two versions of the book – one for boys featuring Joshua and one for girls featuring Prudence. I have to confess, one of the reasons I loved this book so much was the way Ava would say “Pwudence.” So cute.

There are many books available on this subject.

If my child didn’t seem to be ready for using the potty, we’d take a break and come back to it another time.

I remember having a success or two with Ava and the potty at a young age and I thought, “Yes! This is it!” But then she didn’t do it again so I figured it wasn’t the opportune time for her and we tried again in a few months.

Julian, who turned 3 in November, has been going through the motions of potty learning for over a year now. When naked and at home, he would use the potty or toilet about 90% of the time. It wasn’t until just the past couple months though that he would start asking to go potty while we were out of the house (and this was while wearing a diaper or a pull-up). Now he is using the toilet consistently when he is awake. If he’s napping or asleep at night, that’s not always the case and he wears a diaper or pull-up during those times. I’m not in the hurry to get him night “trained,” but trust that it will happen when he’s ready.

In Annie’s post about potty learning, she references a potty training readiness quiz by author Elizabeth Pantley, which is a great place to start if you are contemplating potty learning. Ask Dr Sears also has a wealth of toilet training information – from tips to know before you start to helping the child who won’t go to traveling while training.

Going commando
I have to admit that Julian isn’t in underwear full time during the day yet. He still either wears a pull-up or, if at home and is not half naked, goes commando under his pants. I think we are getting to the point where he could wear underwear regularly and be fine, but it’s just recently that we’ve gotten to that point. It seems like if he has pants on but no underwear, he is more easily able to feel when he has to pee.

With regard to poop
Once I noticed my kids’ pooping cues – both either went into a corner or behind a couch, it was easy to transition from pooping in a diaper to pooping on the potty. Thankfully neither of them had any poop resistance (where kids refuse to poop unless in a diaper), but I know that is common for many kids. Annie wrote a bit about how they overcame poop resistance with her son.

Potty learning at night
When the kiddo starts consistently waking up in the morning dry (i.e. you check their diaper as soon as they wake up and encourage using the potty), that’s a good indication they are ready to go all night in underwear.

It took a while of Ava waking up dry before I felt ready to take the plunge and let her go overnight without a diaper, but she was obviously ready and did well with it.

Techniques other parents swear by

The reward method
We never tried the reward method (yet?), but I know others who have had success with offering an M&M or something similar for each successful trip to the potty.

EcoMeg is currently using the M&M system for potty training her son.

Much More Than a Mom has also been using the reward system (chocolate chips or stickers) to help with potty learning her son.

Elimination communication
Hilary Stamper wrote an informative post explaining how elimination communication (EC) – the process of observing one’s baby’s signs and signals and providing cue sounds and elimination-place associations – worked for her and her baby.

Hobo Mama also has a great post chock full of information about using elimination communication with tips from her experience with her child, but also many links to other sites about EC.

Related links:
Angela at Breastfeeding 1-2-3 wrote Potty Training the Easy Way. She describes her method as somewhere between Potty Training and Elimination Communication. “The ‘easy way’ in my mind does not mean the fastest way or the least messy way. It’s an investment of time that respectfully helps my child learn to use the toilet.”

Previously mentioned, but very informative is Dr. Sears section on toilet training.

How did you go about toilet learning/training with your kiddo(s)? If you have any tips to share, we’d love to hear ’em.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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25 thoughts on “Potty Learning with Patience and Praise”

  1. I have to say I like potty “learning” way more than “training” – we have kids not seals or dogs! That aside, my mom had all 5 of her kids dry by 12 months and I thought she was crazy when she told the story. When my daughter learned to crawl at 8 months, though, I started sitting her on her potty chair when I used the bathroom to keep her with me. I read her stories and she loved sitting on the chair. Since we went to the bathroom before and after naps/sleeping, after nursing/eating, etc. we often got there when she needed to go. She was dry by 11 months when she started daycare. At daycare, they weren’t set up for training until the child was 18 months and so she would go in her diapers at daycare and on the potty at home. It didn’t seem to bother her either way. I have always thought it was good we started so young because Reid was not bothered when she had an accident – it was like, “Oh, look, there is pee on me. I wonder how that happened?” It’s good she already had the potty habit as she didn’t have a distaste of being wet to spur her on.

  2. I found that the commando method worked really well for my little guy. The problem we are encountering now is that when he is engaged in an activity he forgets and will go in his pants. He will hold it as long as possible so that he does not have to stop playing. I don’t know what to do about this. He knows what the potty is for and does use the potty but if a game is to compelling the potty goes out the window. I should mention that he is 4 years old now and his father and I really need some help.

  3. @Mom on the Go: it’s uplifting to hear that it’s possible to potty-train so young – our son stays with a sitter all day and she’s indicated that she thinks he may be ready to learn to use the potty. I hadn’t been sure because he’s only 15 months old, but sure enough, the moment we brought out the potty (we’d tried EC when he was an infant, so he’s familiar with it), he started sitting on it. He’s still more enamoured of it as a seat than a potty, I think (he loves things his size!) but it’s encouraging that he’ll go to it and sit down. We’re going to start pottying him in the mornings and evenings again in hopes that he’ll get the hang of it 🙂

    All of this is really great advice – thanks so much for sharing it!

  4. With my first, he learned to take his diaper off at 18 months, so we bought a toddler potty. He used it a few times, but once he turned 2, all bets were off. After spending time sitting in the bathroom, singing a potty song that I made up to encourage him, I decided it was stupid and I had better things to do than hang out in the bathroom all day. So we put the potty away and left it. Around 2 1/2, he started peeing in the potty on and off, and within a week of turning 3, had mastered the pee thing and was trained for that during the day. A couple of months later, both kids had a diarrhea virus and I had to put him back in diapers, but once that cleared up, something clicked and he was suddenly trained for poop. And he’s never looked back, has been dry and clean, night and day, since then.

    with my daughter, around 2 1/2 we started to suggest the potty and she was very resistent, so having learned our lesson the first time, we left it. We told her she didn’t have to use the toilet, but when she turned 3, the diapers needed to go. And then she met her deadline on her own, potty training for both pee and poop within a week.

    And with both, when they really started in earnest, we just went straight to the regular toilet. The toddler potty was, IMO, a huge waste of space and money.

    Honestly, I felt like the advantages of having kids that trained closer to 3 were great. For us, it meant that the process was pretty quick when it happened (a couple of weeks, max) and I could also count on them to be pretty reliable. If my son told me in the grocery check out that he needed to go, I knew he could wait until I was finished paying, but if he was a year younger, that would mean I’d have to grab him and run and make all the people behind us wait.

  5. Thanks so much for the link!

    I am just starting down this road with my son, who is coming up on 18 months. I am crossing my fingers that naked time, having lots of potties around and having an older sister to look up to will make this as quick and painless as possible. Only time will tell!

  6. Every child is indeed different. For us it was one potty located in his bedroom of all places that is our ticket to success! I put a mat from his changing table on the floor and the potty sits on top. When company comes over he’ll agree to having it moved to the bathroom, but the rest of the time it is in his room and he likes to use it in private. It also took a while for him to get used to using potties out and about, but I’ve sort of made that into an “exciting adventure,” so he gets excited to try out new potties. lol.

  7. We do EC, but we didn’tn start until she was a year (we def would have started sooner if I had known about it sooner!). My daughter is 16 months now and is almost day trained.

    For us the key to EC was to not look at it as a burden to have to sit in the bathroom, but instead use the time for bonding/playing. We read books, sing songs, etc and there are less distractions to take our attention from DD than we would have in other parts of the house.

    Don’t knock it until you try it — If you’re interested, I highly recommend the Diaper Free Baby.

  8. Soooo very helpful. Reagan has been interested in using the potty since she was about 2 1/2. And she loves her “Once Upon a Potty” book and DVD! (I also like the way she says Pwudence. Heehee.) But, she kind of regressed after the newness wore off. She preferred her diaper. Now, we’re at it again because we want to put her in preschool next month, and she wants to go. Plus, all her little friends use the potty. But, letting her wear panties and pants around the house has just resulted in us changing her clothes 5x a day and tons of laundry. We’re going to try the naked method, but with Baby Legs. Happen to have like 12 pair of those. Might as well put them to use! I can see where being naked will help her be more aware of when she has to go, and be less difficult.

    Also liked your suggestion of moving the potty into the same room. That should cut down on the mopping as well. When she watches her “Once Upon a Potty” DVD in the living room, she likes to sit on it anyway. Never occurred to me to just leave it in there!

    Thanks, Amy!

  9. I’ll have to send this to my BFF. She is training her 3 year old girl now. I know everyone says girls are easier, but two of my friends have girls that took until 3 and 4 to get fully potty trained!

  10. Asher had a diaper rash at 26 months that I couldn’t get cleared up so he went w/o a diaper when we were at home and it just sort of happened. We’ve had a couple setbacks, but have exerted no pressure and he now at 2.5 is day dry. I’ve also noticed that if he is in pants w/o underwear that the accidents don’t seem to happen as often. We also used M&Ms and Jelly Belly’s as motivation when he was borderline interested. Looking back I am a little grateful for that diaper rash (it ended up being excema).

  11. Thanks for this post Amy. I am just now starting to think about potty learning Willow and this is a really helpful reminder that I wanted to do it a little differently this time around. I think I pushed Mira a little too much and there was resistance. I want to follow Willow’s cues and let it happen more naturally this time. Great post!

  12. It has been many years since I potty trained my daughter and son (29 and 25 years respectively), but I want to jump in an support Amy’s approach. Especially the going naked training. I was a bit of a radical breast feeding mother in the early eighties and more than a few eyebrows were raised when people heard that I kept my little one out of bottoms when we were home during the potty training period. They both were trained within a week or two (with just intermittent accidents when we were away from home. It takes time, patience and if you are working outside the home, a week or two off of work – but it works. Love what your about, Amy, keep up the good work!

  13. I do what I call “Don’t diaper train the baby!” Combination of cotton diapers, changing every time they are wet, and putting the baby on the potty regularly. My first was out of day time diapers at 10 months. He is 2.5 years now and basically potty independent except for wiping and snapping his pants. My second is 4 mos and regularly using the potty.

  14. I started with the nakedness last summer at 2 so he could actually “see” himself go pee and then at 3 started asking if he wanted to use the toilet. It took a few months of accidents but we’re in the clear for daytime now.
    Pooping in the toilet (and not spreading it on the walls, the crib, the brother..) took a mini-marshmallow. Which I was COMPLETELY fine with =)

  15. We’ve been practising EC with our daughter almost since birth. Today (at 19 months) she is able to tell me when she needs to go and would probably go by herself if she knew how to pull her pants down by herself. 😉

  16. We have just started pottytraining my son, so this article was an encouragement. Thanks for all of the great tips and links. 🙂
    I am going to link to this on my blog….I know some of my readers are going through the process also!

  17. I have a 19-month old who is communicating to me when she goes, constantly. But when I took the test you linked to, I got mostly “B”s, so I will wait a bit longer to teach her to use the potty.

    I also have a Kindergartner, and wrote this article after she learned to use the potty years ago, if it can help anyone.

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